I just wanted OUT!!! I wanted to run out, screaming at the top of my lungs! And if I hadn’t been (at that time, anyway) such a quiet, reserved person, I might just have done so. But at 15, I was very quiet, very reserved, and did not in any way want to call attention to myself. I couldn’t even tell my parents what I was experiencing. Yet here I was, attending a big sale at a local store with my parents and about 75 to 100 other people, all of us in a small building, waiting to hear who won the door prize. By that time, I was almost hyperventilating. I guess it must have shown a little because when we finally left that horrid setting, my mom asked if I was okay. I mumbled something and we headed for home.
I now know this was a panic attack. I also know that my panic attacks began at a very young age. You see, I used to have what one doctor termed a “delicate system”. I hated that term. I didn’t want to be “delicate” as this was the era of “Anything a boy can do a girl can do better” and I was one of the girls determined to prove this adage correct. However, it was true that I got sick a lot, mostly with ear and sinus infections. As a result, I missed quite a bit of school. But, if not for my old friend anxiety, I would have missed far less.
You see, when it came time to go back to school, my heart would pound and I would literally feel weak. I was terrified, despite having plenty of friends and being an “A” student. I didn’t know what I was afraid of, just that I was afraid. I’d tell my mom that I still didn’t feel well and I’d get another one or two days’ reprieve. And it wasn’t like it was fun and games to stay home. I had to stay in bed and in my pajamas. I certainly wasn’t doing anything wild and crazy.
It was easier to go back on a Monday, when everyone else had had a weekend off. I felt that my reemergence into the classroom wasn’t as dramatic as it would be on, say, a Thursday. Now, I don’t know that that’s true, but that was my perception back then. Even now, if I’m absent a Sunday or two at Church, while I miss the people there, my heart beats hard in my chest when it’s time to return.
The difference between “then” and “now” is twofold. One, I’ve discovered a name for what’s wrong with me. Anxiety. It has a name! Hurray! Giving it a name means it has a definition and, yes, my symptoms are right there. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”. It would look better if my flavor of anxiety had a cooler name, but my flavor is pretty gross…I’d had to take on some of the other flavors.
And two is coping mechanisms. I know no one is going to call me names or try to hurt me if I miss a Sunday or two. I remind myself of this. I know when I meet someone that he/she is possibly just as nervous as I am, so deep breaths and a big (forced) smile help put the other person at ease and his/her ease helps me feel at ease. (Did that whole sentence make sense?) Deep breaths, as I’ve told my youngest on many occasions, deep breaths slowly in through the nose…hold…and slowly out through the mouth. This helps the physical symptoms of anxiety and the physical kinda tricks the mental.
Knowing when to leave is key, also. I knew when to leave at that sale I attended at 15, I just didn’t know I truly needed to just get outside the doors into the cooler, quieter air. I know this now, so I leave even if it means walking away from a cart full of groceries. Now, don’t act like you haven’t done that. LOL! I know at least a few of you have done this, or maybe completed the purchase, but in such high-stress mode that you wish you had walked away. Like many things, there are times I think I have to be the only one, but I later discover there’s a whole bunch of other people who have done the same thing or felt the same way. Knowing when to shop and when to stay away from stores is another, for me, essential coping mechanism.
Now, some may consider this separate from coping mechanisms, but I add my medication to this list as without it, I’m a mess. A big, ol’ anxiety ridden depressed mess. I’m grateful to the mini-pharmacy in my upper right desk drawer for helping to keep me on relatively stable terms.
I recently submitted a brief questionnaire to BPHope magazine which essentially asked if there were any external stimuli that contributed to a mood. Oh, my goodness! I could have typed forever, but for me the biggest is sound or noises. Being in that cramped, very noisy room at that sale brought on a full scale panic attack. Going back to noisy, generally cramped classrooms after the quiet of home was also a trigger. Now I know this and knowing, they say, is half the battle.
Do crowds bother you? How about being in a noisy environment? How do you cope?